On my way to San Francisco Thursday I stopped by the Green Gulch Farm stand at the Marin Farmers' Market. I left with my arms filled with little beets with their greens and small fennel bulbs topped with fragrant lacy fronds. Fennel is ubiquitous in Marin. It grows wild along country roads and in fields in places where the grazing cows can't reach. As children, we were always warned how to tell the difference between wild fennel and the look alike deadly wild hemlock. I don't dig up wild fennel, but I have collected seeds for use as a condiment. The Green Gulch fennel was baby new...small, gragrant and tender. I couldn't resist! —dymnyno
BRAISE THE FENNEL: Cut the fennel into large pieces .In a large heavy pot brown the fennel in about 3 tbs olive oil. Also add 4 garlic cloves (peeled).
Add 2 cups water to the fennel , cover and braise in the oven for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Make sure that all the liquid does not cook away . The fennel will be very very tender.
Pulse in a blender until smooth.
RISOTTO: In a large heavy 4 quart pot put 3 tbs butter and a little olive oil and sautee chopped shallots until transluscent. Add the rice and sautee until coated and has turned translucent. Then lower the heat a little.
At the same time the chicken stock is simmering on another burner. Add a ladle or two or chicken stock and stir' (IT IS IMPORTANT THAT THE CHICKEN BROTH IS VERY HOT...IT MUST NEVER BE COOLER THAN THE RICE)
Continue to stir until the rice bubbles and empty holes form. This means it is time to add more hot chicken stock and stir. Continue this pattern until all the stock is used and the rice is cooked al dente.
ADD THE FENNEL PUREE and mix into the rice.
FINALLY add 2 tbs cold butter and mix.
TO SERVE: Spoon onto a plate. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Finish with toasted fennel seeds and a little sea salt.